NASA: Space Station crew installs probe, launches experiment in space walk

Astronaut and cosmonaut complete late-night, five-and-a-half-hour space walk this morning

Winding up a space walk in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, an astronaut and a cosmonaut installed a probe on the outside of the International Space Station to monitor electromagnetic energy.

Mike Fincke, commander of the International Space Station, and Flight Engineer Yury Lonchakov spent five hours and 38 minutes on their space walk. As part of an investigation into the steeper than normal re-entries into the Earth's atmosphere of the Expedition 15 and Expedition 16 Soyuz spacecraft, space station engineers will use the electromagnetic energy measuring device, dubbed the Langmuir probe, to calculate the energy's effects on bolts that are suspected to be a cause of the problem, according to NASA.

Last March, the crew of the space shuttle Endeavour carried the makings of a 3,400 lb., 12-ft. robot with a 30-ft. wingspan to the International Space Station. The robot, named Dextre by its makers at the Canadian Space Agency in Saint-Hubert, Quebec, is designed to take on most of the maintenance jobs required outside of the space station, cutting back on the number of dangerous space walks the astronauts must make.

Although Dextre is assembled and awaiting an assignment, it was not used in this week's outside work.

Dextre isn't the only recent high-tech addition to the space station.

Earlier this month, astronauts installed an electronic nose onto the facility. The ENose, which has an array of 32 sensors, is designed to sniff out dangerous chemicals like ammonia, mercury, methanol and formaldehyde that could escape into the air in the space station.

In the space walk work that wrapped up today, Fincke and Lonchakov also uninstalled a long-term Russian experiment that exposed biological samples to space.

The pair also installed and then uninstalled technology for a European Space Agency experiment that would have subjected biological materials to the rigors of space. However, the experimental package, called Expose-R, failed to send data to Mission Control Moscow, so it was immediately dismantled and will be brought back to Earth, NASA reported.

Fincke and Lonchakov did successfully set up what the agency called an Impulse experiment that will measure disturbances in the ionosphere around the station.

NASA also announced that it has set up a Web page where people can send holiday greetings to the people on board the International Space Station.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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